Nato leaders have pledged to step up their defences against the threat of chemical and nuclear weapon attacks, as Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky hit out at western nations for not doing enough to help his country defend itself against Russia.
Jens Stoltenberg, Nato secretary-general, said the alliance had “activated Nato’s chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defence elements and allies are deploying additional chemical, biological and nuclear defences” in response to Russian threats.
“We are taking measures both to support Ukraine and to defend ourselves,” he told reporters at the summit in Brussels on Thursday, adding that Nato was concerned by Russia’s rhetoric regarding chemical and nuclear weapons and its history of using chemical agents against its enemies, as well as its support for Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria, where chemical weapons had been used.
“It is about making sure that our [chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear] troops are at high readiness so that they could be deployed rapidly . . . and making sure we have all the stocks ready that we would need,” said a western official. “It is a sign we are very concerned.”
In a video address to the summit, Zelensky appealed for “military assistance — without restrictions”.
“You have thousands of fighter jets but we haven’t been given any yet,” he said. “We asked for tanks so that we can unblock our cities that are now dying — Mariupol, Berdyansk, Melitopol, others . . . You have at least 20,000 tanks. The worst thing during the war is not having clear answers to requests for help.”
He warned that Russia “does not intend to stop in Ukraine” and would ultimately threaten Nato’s eastern members “the Baltic states, Poland — that’s for sure”.
Zelensky criticised Nato for not accepting Ukraine as a member of the alliance.
“After such a war against Russia, I ask you: never, please, never tell us again that our army does not meet Nato standards,” he said.
He added: “We have shown what our standards are capable of and how much we can give to the common security in Europe and the world. How much we can do to protect from aggression against everything we value, everything you value.”
US president Joe Biden attended the Nato summit and met G7 and EU leaders.
A senior Biden administration official said plans to send anti-ship missiles to Ukraine to help it fend off Russian attacks from the sea were under discussion at the summit.
“We have started consulting with allies on providing anti-ship missiles to Ukraine,” the US official said, adding that “there may be some technical challenges with making it happen”.
The talks follow steps by the US and European allies to supply Ukraine with anti-tank and anti-aircraft weaponry, even though they have ruled out enforcing a no-fly zone over the country and are struggling to deliver on plans to offer Kyiv long-range anti-aircraft systems.
Nato members also agreed to accelerate their efforts to increase national defence spending to a level equivalent to 2 per cent of gross domestic product.
Nato is expected to agree a plan to strengthen its eastern flank by setting up four battle groups of Nato troops in Bulgaria, Hungary, Slovakia and Romania. It has already deployed deterrent troops in Poland and the Baltic states.
Ukraine on Thursday claimed to have sunk a large Russian naval vessel that had docked in the port city of Berdyansk on the Azov Sea coast which is controlled by Russian forces.
Russian officials did not comment on the claim, which could represent a significant setback for Russia. When the ship, the Orsk, first docked this week, Moscow’s state media described the event as a breakthrough because it was the first military vessel to dock on the coast and had delivered a large number of tanks and armoured vehicles for Russian troops.
Russia’s defence ministry said its troops had taken full control of the eastern Ukrainian town of Izyum, a strategically important area between Kharkiv and Donetsk with a prewar population of about 40,000. Ukrainian officials did not immediately confirm the assertion.
Russian and Ukrainian military claims cannot be independently verified.